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The Night Lawyer    by Michelle Spring order for
Night Lawyer
by Michelle Spring
Order:  USA  Can
Ballantine, 2006 (2006)

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In The Night Lawyer, Michelle Spring shows us a vulnerable heroine, who's come through a breakdown (after being abandoned by her married lover) and time in a psychiatric unit. She pulled herself up by her bootstraps, to train in martial arts (karate) and re-enter the legal profession. With all this on her plate, we learn in the first sentence that Eleanor Porter, small and slim, with reddish-gold hair and 'a décolletage to die for', has a secret - she has 'murder on her conscience.'

A good friend, Harriet, helped Ellie to find an opening as night lawyer for a tabloid, the Chronicle, at Canary Wharf. She lives in a small terraced house on the Isle of Dogs, with a beloved hamster named Odysseus. We see her ease herself nervously (on the inside) into her new job and begin to make friends amongst her associates, including divorced foreign editor Jonathan and the untrustworthy Ariana. We also get a peek into Ellie's uncomfortable relationship with her lovely, self-centered mother Annabel. To put more pressure on this rather fragile character, the ex-lover shows up again in her life, a former boyfriend is accused of abusing his own daughter, and Ellie's sensei informs her that he's put her forward for brown belt grading, requiring considerable extra training.

Early in the book, we learn of the murder of a tourist, whose body is found in the Thames by an elderly woman. Then police officer wannabe Carl Hewitt - whose life was derailed by a pivotal decision made in his youth, who's been trying to make up for it ever since, and who might be implicated in the murder - begins to stalk Ellie, whom he sees as his Dancing Queen. He keeps detailed notes of his observations, leaves spooky rhymed messages for her, and even breaks into her house. Ellie's next-door neighbor, a young student named Jessica, whose parents are out of the country, is involved in a destructive relationship, and cuts herself regularly, once so badly that only Ellie's intervention saves her life. We also learn more of the death of Ellie's loved father, something for which she feels great responsibility.

Though the plot rambles, and at times the heroine's behavior doesn't seem to match the strength of character implicit in her recovery from the earlier breakdown, Michelle Spring pulls it all together masterfully in an ending that offers redemption to the tortured innocents and punishment to the guilty. The Night Lawyer is an absorbing psychological mystery.

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